Disappointed and forbidden love

A lovestruck medieval clerk writing out romantic lyrics as he daydreams. A gay man in the 1930s who tears up a letter to his lover to hide it from the police. Two women who defy 18th century conventions to marry in secret…these are some of the characters you’ll meet in this episode, which features three stories of disappointed and forbidden love.

Each story comes from a real love letter held in The National Archives’ collection, and if you think a government archive can’t be romantic, these documents and their powerful stories may very well change your mind.

Documents from The National Archives used in this episode:

DPP 2/224; E 163/22/1/1; PROB 10/6000.

Listeners, we need your help to make this podcast better! We need to know a bit more about you and what themes you’re interested in. You can share this information with us by visiting smartsurvey.co.uk/s/ontherecord/.

Transcription

Euan Roger [reading from document]:

Alone I live, alone.
And sore I sigh for one.

No wonder though I mourning make
For grievous sighs that my heart does take
And all is for my lady sake

Alone I live, alone.
And sore I sigh for one.

Matt Norman: Ahh yes unrequited love, that universal and timeless muse of sad poets and song-writers. These lines were written sometime in the 15th century, but the song’s refrain, “Alone I live, alone,” is timeless in its simplicity.

Katie Fox: These lyrics actually remind me of another song from the same genre:

To see you once again, my love
Over seas from coast to coast
To find the place I love the most
Where the fields are green
To see you once again, my love

Matt: Ok so if I know you Katie that’s got to be Keats, right?

Katie: [Laughs] No, it’s Westlife.

Matt: Love fades, but cheesy love songs are forever.

Katie: Speaking of writing about love…that’s the theme of this three-part mini-series: love letters.

Matt: When our exhibition team set out to create our spring 2020 temporary exhibition, they looked carefully through our collection and chose around two dozen love letters spanning 500 years to put on display for “With Love,” the name of the exhibition. Over the next three episodes, we’re going to take a closer look at seven of these documents and the fascinating love stories they represent.

Katie: You might not expect a government archive to be a good Valentine’s Day destination, but our archives are actually full of letters and legal records that preserve all manner of famous affairs and previously untold love stories.

Matt: So what actually counts as a love letter? You might be picturing a romantic, handwritten note…but love letters take many different forms. Wills, state records, and letters written to government officials can all contain expressions of love–criminalised love, love divided….and of course that old favourite, love unrequited.

Katie: Of all of the millions of love letters ever written, most are lost to history, but those that have survived offer readers an intimate look at the hidden worlds and loves of their writers.

Matt: You’re listening to On the Record at The National Archives, a show that uncovers the stories hidden in our collections, stories of famous monarchs and spies…..

Katie: ….and stories of everyday people like you and me.

Matt: …Stories you’ve never heard before…

Katie: …and stories you thought you knew.

Matt: I’m Matt Norman…

Katie: ….and I’m Katie Fox.

Matt: Here at The National Archives, we’re the guardians of more than 11 million historical government and public records, spanning a thousand years of British history.

Katie: We’re the paper trail of a nation, and our original documents have some incredible stories to tell…if you know where to look.

Matt: Speaking of paper trails, why do we have a medieval love song in our collection?

Katie: As you might imagine, with 11 million records, some very unusual things find their way into our archival boxes from time to time. Those lines we heard at the beginning of the episode, they were found in with some official papers just interesting enough to be worth keeping for a few hundred years.

And I thought it would be appropriate to kick off this mini-series on love letters by seeing what we can find out about the person behind what may be one of the oldest love letters in our collection.

Euan: It’s been written out as music, but also text of a song on the back of an official report into a riot from 1457.

Katie: This is Euan Roger, a Medieval Record Specialist here at The National Archives. He’s done a bit of research on this particular scrap of paper, and I sat down with him to find out what he knows. The paper itself is a partial page, worn down at the edges; and the back of what’s left is filled with lyrics and musical notation.

Euan: There’s no real reason why we have it. It’s been kind of sketched on the back of an official report into a riot from 1457, which is the start of the Wars of the Roses period. But it may have been sketched at any point after that. It’s on the back of the document. The document itself is paper. So paper is quite often used for drafts rather than final reports. So it might just be it’s a spare bit of paper lying around the Office of the Exchequer, and a love struck clerk or official has just kind of sketched it out.

We have quite a lot of these doodles, sketches, additions that are made by clerks in both the law courts but also the Exchequer and the Chancery, possibly just because they’re bored or, just kind of, they haven’t got their mind on the job potentially. So we have lots of sketches including pictures of birds. We have quite a lot of poetry. We have quite a few little one or two or three lines sketches or texts or poems. This is quite different in that it’s very elaborate. Obviously the music’s been involved. He’s written out the kind of score that he’d be singing this to and also several verses not just one or two bits.

Matt: So this is obviously more than a moment of boredom…it’s some serious procrastination.

Katie: I get bored at work occasionally; l’ll admit it. But I think I can safely say, I’ve never written out an entire page of sheet music when I should have been working.

Matt: Is he actually composing this song or just copying out something he remembers?

Katie: It’s a little bit of both, according to Euan.

Euan: It’s probably the case that he didn’t write it himself because there are additions, there are bits where he’s got it wrong and had to add words in. We know that the refrain of the song is actually known from other texts. It features in a collection of love songs thought to have been owned by Henry VIII in the 16th century. So it’s clearly a kind of popular refrain that’s known around England but we don’t necessarily have those verses in the other texts. When I look at it, it kind of takes me back to school days where you have people jotting down the latest Smash Hits lyrics on their pencil cases. So maybe he’s just kind of thinking about this woman and spontaneously writing out what he thinks.

Katie: …Whilst he’s bored at work.

Euan: …Whilst he’s bored at work.

Matt: What does our clerk’s song choice say about him?

Euan: So in many ways, this is a very Tudor love song as it were. It’s very much male. It’s egotistical. He’s voicing the kind of author’s loneliness and unrequited love. It’s framed as pursuit or a game, something to be sought. So when he talks about “lovers dance” and “seeking a thing that will not be had,” …so I think that’s very much fixed in its time, but at the same time, that kind of feeling of unrequited love and reaching out to someone who you want to return those affections is something which kind of goes across the ages I’d say.

Matt: This scrap of paper represents a love story–or more likely a story of unrequited love–that’s otherwise completely lost to history. There’s no other trace of it. This man lived and loved and died, but by a happy accident this little expression of his feelings survived 500 years in boxes of official government records.

[Sound of quill scratching]

Euan [reading]:

My mind is so, it is content
With her daily to be present
And yet my service is there mis-spent
Alone I live, alone
And sore I sigh for one

True thee that I would be glad
To seek a thing that will not be had?
Saw I never man so sore be stad!
Alone I live, alone
And sore I sigh for one

Once me to love if she began,
No man with tongue nor pen tell can
The joy in me that would be then.
Alone I live, alone
And sore I sigh for one

Matt: Like the Medieval doodle, our next love letter gives us just a glimpse at a single moment in a complete life that left almost no historical trace, except for a torn piece of paper full of unrequited love.

Katie: But this letter isn’t remarkable because of its age. It was written in 1934, and we have no shortage of letters, diaries, and official records from the 20th century. It’s remarkable because the act of writing a love letter like this was considered evidence of criminality, evidence that could get its writer thrown in prison.

Matt: And in a strange quirk of history, it is precisely because the police were trying to stop this writer from expressing his love in private or in public that this torn-up love letter between two men, Cyril and Morris, has actually survived.

Katie: We don’t have the actual love letter that Cyril wrote to Morris and then apparently tore up. What we do have is a typewritten transcript of the letter from a police file in which the letter was used as evidence of criminal activities, in this case sex between men.

To help us read between the lines of this police record and learn more about Cyril and Morris’ love story, I’ve one again enlisted Vicky Iglikowski-Broad, our Principal Diverse Records Specialist here at The National Archives.

Vicky: This letter I think is particularly unique because it’s a letter between men in a time where actually a lot of the evidence doesn’t survive. So we have similar letters from the era that say things like, please destroy this note, because people knew that they were risking things. By writing things down, it could be used against them. It’s a really rare example of explicit kind of emotion and feelings between men. It’s a letter that has kind of universal themes of disappointment and therefore it’s an interesting insight into LGBT relationships at the time that they had all the same experiences that other people did of disappointment in love really.

What’s really interesting about the record is that it comes to us because of criminalisation at the time. So it’s almost a sad reason that the record exists and yet it shows it’s a really extraordinary insight into love between men in the 1930s, and that’s so very rare that it makes the letter and the source really powerful.

Matt: How did this letter end up in a police file?

Vicky: So this specific letter written by Cyril was found at The Caravan Club in 1934.

The Caravan was a really unique venue. It was a safe space for LGBT people at the time to meet members of the same sex in relative safety. It’s quite a Bohemian space. You have an accordion player called Charlie. We have really unique photographs in our collections that show the Bohemian interior. So lots of fabric, lots of patterns. The photos are black and white, but we can imagine the kind of vibrancy of the colour, and it gives us a really vivid idea of the space that this actual letter was found in. So we also have a ticket in The National Archives that describes The Caravan as London’s greatest Bohemian rendezvous.

We’ve got to imagine that the context of this letter is 1930s Britain, when homosexual acts between men are illegal. While it was never explicitly illegal to be gay, associated acts were criminalised. We’re in London, which maybe had a more metropolitan attitude towards sexuality at the time, but essentially the law would still have criminalised love between men. So letters between men were used as evidence, and just to enter spaces like The Caravan Club was quite risky. It might have meant police surveillance. So it’s really this context that Morris and Cyril were exchanging letters.

The Caravan Club was actually under regular surveillance. It actually only existed for about six weeks, but it soon started getting complaints. We have a note from the ratepayers of Endell Street, the street that the club was on. And it describes the club as an absolute sink of iniquity frequented by sexual perverts, lesbians, and sodomites.

So these complaints from local people led to a final raid on the Caravan Club on the 25th of August in 1934, and in this raid 103 individuals, both men and women, were arrested. There’d been observations on the club because they knew that men were having relationships with other men in the space. There was a dance floor, and men were dancing with other men as well. So these individuals were arrested and taken to Bow Street Police Station, and one of the individuals was the author of our letter, Cyril.

Matt: So what do we know about Cyril and Morris?

Katie: These two men are just everyday people. And while that’s one of the things that makes this letter so special, it also means they are a bit of a mystery. We know a bit more about Cyril because of his police record, but all we know about Morris is what Cyril has to say to him.

Matt: We should probably go ahead and hear the letter itself at this point, right? I’m pretty curious about what it says.

Katie: It begins…My Darling Morris…..

Dan Vo [reading document transcript]:

My Darling Morris,

Just a note which I feel I must write or should I say type to you. I was very very disappointed to find out that you were not coming to the Club to-night, as ever since I phoned you on Monday and made arrangements, I just lived for to-night when I was to have seen you darling, as a matter of fact I stayed in bed all day yesterday, didn’t even get up to eat and just thought of you, and counting the hours until I should see you, and then the terrible shock, of not being with you after all, I had a terrible feeling that I should be disappointed so that is the reason I telephoned.

I always feel so embarrassed when we meet as the terrible thought of your trouble keeps ringing in my ears, and I hate myself and cried for hours when I lay and thought it all, especially when I love you, Morris darling, honestly I do, it is two years almost since we first met, then I was crazy about you, but you just seemed to disappear and I never saw you for months and I tried to forget, and now since seeing you, it has all started again, and I just had to let you know how I felt, please do not think I am foolish Morris but I Love You such a lot, so please if you do not feel this way to me, promise that we shall always be the best of friends, I know it is very difficult to think the same of me since what happened, even altho’ I told you what the Doctor said, however I hope you will forgive and forget.
Well Morris darling I must ring off now and pray that I may see you on Saturday.
I only wish that I was going away with you, just you and I to eat sleep and make love together, perhaps when you are away you will think of me sometimes and even write me, I, sincerely hope so.

Well Morris darling until we meet,

I am Yours with all my love for ever and always

Matt: Ok what do you make of that then?

Katie: I mean it’s pretty powerful isn’t it?

Matt: It’s really powerful, it’s quite intense. He does come across as very vulnerable as well. That’s something that really strikes me.

Katie: Yeah I mean like he’s really putting himself out there, isn’t he? I think a lot of people would have felt some of the things Cyril is feeling. He just desperately wants to be with Morris. He’s not confident about Morris’ feelings for him, but at the same time he’s really overwhelmed by his own longing for Morris. And that’s just really relatable.

Matt: But you do wonder also what exactly the relationship is. You only get this one voice, of course. So you wonder what is the other side of the story? Is this love felt by both men?

Katie: Yeah I mean it would be amazing if we had love letters back and forth between them.

Matt: Yeah here are so many hints to their backstory in the letter…like we get just this tiny cross section of their story, most of which probably went to the grave with them and any friends they confided in.

So what else do we know about our friend Cyril?

Katie: The few details we have about his arrest reveal him to be quite the character…very brave and witty. When the police raided the club, Cyril was seated on a divan and the letter was torn up next to him alongside a powder puff. We know these small details because the police were very concerned with any flaunting of gender norms.

Vicky: Once arrested, Cyril had to undergo the humiliating process of actually having his face tested for makeup. And you see this as quite a common occurrence in raids on clubs and even private venues where men are arrested. They’ll have blotting paper put against their face to test for kind of rouge and makeup. And so this is something that Cyril himself had to go through.

Cyril was also really quite defiant. He went by the pseudonym, Cyril the Lionheart or Cyril cour de lion. And so he had a kind of a very extravagant persona. When he was arrested, he said to the inspector, well, I don’t mind this beastly raid, but I would like to know if you can let me have one of your nice boys to come home with me. I am really good. It’s an extraordinary act when the police are arresting you and your love is criminalised to make kind of jokey remarks like that in defiance of the law.

Matt: There’s one thing I’m wondering about….why was the letter torn up?

Vicky: So the letter was torn up, we believe because he was trying to destroy the material evidence of this love letter that would potentially incriminate him. He was aware of the risk of having a letter like this on him, and the way it could be used against him by the police who were raiding the venue.

Katie: And this sadly means the letter probably never made it to Morris.

Vicky: Indeed we presume it never made it to Morris, which is quite sad to think because Cyril is quite distraught in the letter about his disappointment and not seeing Morris anyway. It’s quite sad to think that we assume the letter never found its owner.

Matt: Even if they did meet again, it wouldn’t have been in the Caravan Club, which never opened its doors again after the raid. And in the letter, I get the sense that there was no other option for where they could meet, anyway. That was the only place, right? So what do we know about the end of this story?

Katie: So thanks to our legal records, we can follow Cyril’s story for a bit longer before we lose his trail.

Vicky: Although he was taken to court, he wasn’t sentenced. He was found not guilty along with most of the other individuals in attendance. So on the condition that they agreed not to frequent these kinds of venues again, they were let off on this occasion. However, the owners of the club received 20 months and then 12 months, respectively, of hard labor. So it wasn’t a guaranteed outcome for the case that Cyril would be let off.

Matt: And the rest of the story is a mystery…

Katie: Though not necessarily an unsolvable one. We don’t have any more records that mention Cyril, but he may have found his way into other archives in the city.

Matt: Yeah that’s true, and it’s a really tantalising thought that this episode might inspire someone to use our records as a starting point and look for the rest of the story.

[Musical transition]

Matt: Because archivists and historians in the past collected what they thought was important and worth preserving, sometimes it can seem like there aren’t many LGBTQ stories in history. But that’s simply not the case. Queer people have always existed, and so they have always been a part of history.

Katie: Because LGBTQ people haven’t been intentionally placed in the historical record, their stories are often hidden or obscured in collections, but if you know where to look, these stories can be found and told.

Matt: And each story that we tell fills in gaps in our historical knowledge, giving us a clearer, more accurate picture of the past.

Katie: If men who loved and had relationships with other men are hard to find in the historical record, it can be even more difficult to find the stories of women who had romantic relationships with other women.

Vicky: In the archive material, it’s interesting to see that there’s a real focus on male homosexual relationships, particularly because their love was criminalized in a legal sense, and it’s never been illegal for women to have relationships with other women. However, it has been socially unacceptable. So records are almost suppressed, because they’re not visible in the eyes of the law. They’re not recorded for those purposes. But equally people didn’t feel they could write things down, and maybe save things for future generations because it wasn’t necessarily socially accepted. So women’s records are weirdly hidden, particularly in terms of lesbian relationships, because they kind of have this double suppression, I guess.

Matt: Our records experts have some tricks for getting around this problem and finding queer women hidden in the archives.

Katie: It’s all about knowing where to look and reading between the lines…

Vicky: In terms of the records we have at The National Archives relating to lesbians and women having relationships with other women, there are various sources, but they are, they tend to be a bit harder to find and to locate. So you might have to think differently about sources that you come across and read into and interpret them. So we have sources around censorship by the state. So the censorship of plays, books, things like The Well of Loneliness, a very famous example. But also just reading into popular history sources like the census and looking at family relationships and household units to kind of read into people’s relationships at the time. We also have things like wills…again, a very common source, but that can show words, the legacy and inheritance that people intended. And fundamentally what tells us more about someone than what they want to do with their inheritance and who they leave their money to.

Matt: And here at The National Archives, we happen to have the will of Anne Lister, an 18th century English landowner from Halifax in West Yorkshire. Anne Lister has been described as the “the first modern Lesbian.” Her remarkable life story has been in the spotlight lately thanks to the 2019 fictionalised TV drama about her life, Gentleman Jack.

Katie: Anne Lister kept incredibly detailed diaries for 35 years, from a young age to her death in 1840. Her diaries, written partly in code, were kept hidden away for over a hundred and fifty years, deemed unfit to be published by the few who had read them….until historian Helena Whitbread came upon them in a local Halifax archive, decoded them, and shared Anne Lister’s story with the world. In her diaries, Lister is very open about her sexuality.

On 29 January, 1821, she wrote this in her diary:

‘I love and only love the fairer sex and thus beloved by them in turn, my heart revolts from any other love than theirs.’

Vicky: So she’s believed to have written about 5 million words about her many relationships with various women. What’s interesting about that is that it’s showing not just her experience, but actually tapping into how many other women around her were having similar relationships. So it’s incredibly revealing of life at the time. So she was well known for running her estate, being a very prominent woman, she wore a lot of masculine in clothes. So actually we kind of tend to associate her now with a lot of the ideas that feed into the ideas of what a modern lesbian is. She was prolific and kind of amazing. She set a precedent really.

Anne Lister is interesting because she’s kind of a flawed character. So she’s got her faults. She comes across in her diaries and writings about her as quite stern, quite forthright. She was a character, kind of an all senses of the word, and that’s kind of really interesting to see for a woman of that era. It sets her outside of the mould of what people considered a woman should be.

It’s really interesting at the time to think about how much people knew about her relationships with other women. The way she seems to meet so many women suggests that she’s quite open about her sexuality. But at the same time there are significant sections of her diaries that are in code. So it kind of feels like possibly she was walking quite a difficult line and quite a difficult balance about how much she could be open about her sexuality and how much she kind of was dictated by the context of the era that she lived in.

Matt: We don’t have Anne Lister’s diaries here at The National Archives, but, as I’ve already said, we do have her final will and testament. This document isn’t as well known as her diaries, but it reveals some fascinating details about her final and perhaps most significant relationship.

Vicky: Anne Lister had many relationships with many women, and her diaries start at the age of 15 and start talking about her first kind of sexual experiences and her interest in other women. By her later life, she’d met Ann Walker. So Ann Walker was considered to be the love of her life. She was younger, she had a wealth that Anne Lister didn’t have, so kind of opened up a bit of a new world in various senses to Anne Lister.
And so it was, it was an interesting relationship really to see develop. It did come with its complexities and we can see that in some of the surviving documentation.

Anne Lister and Ann Walker, uh, after only a couple of months of knowing each other actually lived together at Shibden Hall. So that’s Anne Lister’s estate. So it was quite a fast moving relationship. And actually at the time they kind of did a commitment ceremony in church, which was a really significant and bold move because there weren’t the kind of legal possibilities of marriage that we would now consider for lesbian relationships. So they had their own ways of showing their love and dedication to each other, but that also carries through to their legal documents like their wills.

Anne Lister bequeathed her substantial estate to her friend Ann Walker. Now the use of the word friend is really interesting because that comes from the actual will itself.

Matt: In a society where they couldn’t marry, a will was a legal document that could formalise the level of commitment these women had for each other.

Katie: But this will doesn’t just represent a happily ever after; things were a bit more complicated than that.

Vicky: Anne Lister’s will is really, really interesting. So it mentions Ann Walker, that Anne Lister will give Ann Walker a lifetime inheritance of Shibden Hall, the property they both live in. And yet there’s a real contradiction in the way that that’s framed. Anne Lister says that this is on the condition that Ann Walker never marries.

Katie: Let me read out the line Vicky mentions:

Katie [reading an excerpt from the will]: I do hereby declare that in case of the marriage of the said Ann Walker whatsoever hereinbefore given to or reposed in her shall thenceforth cease and determine in the same manner to all intents constructions and purposes as if the said Ann Walker should have then departed this life.
Matt: I’m gonna put this in plain English: if Ann Walker remarries after Anne Lister’s death, she’ll have to forfeit any property or money inherited from Anne Lister. What does this caveat say about their relationship?
Vicky: My instinct when I saw the will and this kind of particular phrasing and stipulation was kind of surprise, surprise that such a legal document in some ways could tell us so much I think about their relationship and while we don’t know the exact reasoning behind it, I think to see something I think shows character in a legal document like a will is quite interesting. To me it shows that Anne Lister was actually quite possessive. And that fits in with a lot that we know about her character. So although it is very much speculation, that’s the way that that statement stood out to me, but equally it’s been seen as maybe being protective in terms of protecting Ann Walker from being financially abused by people or taken advantage of. And maybe it shows Anne Lister’s insecurities as well, that she’s paranoid about what will happen to her younger lover if she’s not around.

It’s interesting to note that at The National Archives we also have Ann Walker’s will. That does mention Anne Lister, but it’s believed that she was pressured to include Lister in her will.

Katie: But we know from her diaries that Anne Lister was always possessive and a bit controlling in her relationships, so that possessive woman that comes through in the will…is the same person Ann Walker chose to spend her life with.

Matt: Flawed people do fall in love too.

Katie: So if any Anne Lister fans are listening, the point is not that they didn’t love each other it’s that they were complicated individuals.

Vicky: I think this will shows how complex documents showing emotions and romance can be, that love is never clear cut and you know, it comes with its complexities and I think the relationship of Anne Lister and Anne Walker really shows that in many ways. And that kind of crosses all relationships, all sexualities, as we can see in the archives. People that were LGBT in the past were actually as nuanced as everyone else, had their own complexities and characters…and I think we sometimes champion individuals as LGBT heroes and actually they’re as complex as everyone in the past historically was.

Matt: Thanks to her extensive diary writing, Anne Lister is one of the rare everyday people whose story has survived in such detail.

Katie: Unfortunately, in this case, that knowledge is a double edged sword….as Anne Lister and Ann Walker’s story ends rather tragically.

Vicky: Not long after writing the wills, Anne Lister sadly died. Both of them were travelling abroad when Anne Lister became tragically ill. Ann Walker had to take the perilous journey back across the continents from Georgia, which was quite an epic feat in itself and took about seven months with Anne Lister’s embalmed body with her.

So as requested in Anne Lister’s will, Ann Walker returned to Shibden Hall, but this time without her lover. Two years after Anne’s death, Ann Walker was declared of unsound mind

There are lots of discussions about why that might have been. Um, so it might have been a true reflection of her mental health at the time. But equally Anne Lister, her life partner had died two years before. Was she suffering from a broken heart? It’s hard to now know, but we can certainly speculate.
In terms of the experience for Ann Walker, it would have been presumably very difficult to have had to bring Anne Lister’s body back home, to suffer that essentially alone, and to be socially isolated essentially by her sexuality so that she couldn’t have had maybe the same support that other people could have at the time. When she eventually died in 1855, they were not buried next to each other.

Matt: It is tragic, but it’s still a beautiful love story, even without a happy ending. They found love in a society that didn’t believe lesbians could or should exist, and even got married secretly.

Katie: And though they weren’t buried together, their wills are together here at The National Archives.

Matt: And history will remember them in their own voices, as they were: lovers and partners in life.

[Musical interlude]

Matt: Let’s jump forward in time to find what happy ending we can for these stories. When would Lister, Walker, Cyril, and Morris have been able to love and marry in the open?

Vicky: Things would eventually changed for people like Morris and Cyril, although we don’t know if those individuals ever got to see the change in the law. It took until the 1967 Sexual Offenses Act for the law to significantly change. So that partially decriminalised homosexual acts between men in England and Wales.

The reform in 1967 was a very, very positive step forward, but it came with significant caveats, and so that in practice led to an increase in arrests after the act. Despite that, even partial decriminalisation would’ve made a huge difference to the likes of Cyril and Morris.

We don’t know if these individuals lived to see the change in the law. At the time of the raid on the Caravan and the time of writing his letter, Cyril was just 22. So it’s possible that he would have been in his fifties and seeing this change. And it’s interesting to think what he would have thought about it and how he would have felt.

Katie: If Cyril lived to an old age, he would have witnessed a bumpy road towards equality, and he may have wondered if true acceptance for LGBTQ people was possible.

In 1988, Section 28 banned local authorities and schools from, quote-un-quote, “promoting homosexuality” or “pretend family relationships,” which enforced a dangerous silence around sexuality and denied that people like Anne Lister and Cyril existed and deserved equal treatment under the law. Section 28 wasn’t repealed until 2003. It wasn’t until 2013 and 14 that England, Wales, and Scotland all legalised same-sex marriage.

And it remained illegal to marry a partner of the same sex in Northern Ireland until the 13th of January 2020…only a few months ago.

Matt: There is so much more work to be done before everyone under the LGBTQ+ umbrella has true equality and the stigma against their lives and love is gone, but nonetheless it’s been a century of immense change and progress.

Vicky: In The National Archives collections, we have these moments that are quite sad to look back on. But actually in the century since there’s so much progression and social change, so our records around LGBT rights and lives now tend to be so much more about legislation and progressive legislation. So although it wouldn’t have likely been in the lifetime of Cyril and Morris, certainly wasn’t in the lifetime of Anne Lister, there’s been very quick social change. And so hopefully individuals such as these ones in the past would now have a very different life if they were in this century.

Katie: The National Archives and many other historical institutions are working hard to bring the queer voices they hold out of the shadows.

Vicky: There are amazing projects going on to try and make sure that we fill in the gaps of archives so that these voices are collected more naturally in the future. It’s amazing though to think that documents such as wills and police records have just naturally collected these stories as well. So although there are now many projects kind of actively collecting, hopefully we’ll also get those voices of LGBT people that just naturally intersect with various lives and various collections to make sure that there’s balance in the future.

Back in 2017. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to recreate the Caravan Club. The opportunity arose to recreate it with The National Trust pretty much back to back with the original location. So in Soho on Endell Street, just to the back of that. So the Caravan Club, when we reopened, it was open for about four weeks, which actually is quite similar to the original…wasn’t open for very long. It was very much a makeshift venue, quickly pulled together. And so we had quite a short run there, but we did tours in the daytime and opened it in the evenings for cabaret, showcasing current performers, particularly focusing on queer artists now. It was an amazing opportunity to recreate a queer space and take a space that in the past had been suppressed and marginalised by the state and now recreate it and openly celebrate those lives.
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Matt: Thanks for listening to On the Record, a production of The National Archives at Kew.

In the next episode of On the Record we’re going to share two letters on the theme of love divided, one from a queen and one from a Jamaican sailor.

All of the letters featured in this mini-series were chosen from The National Archive’s With Love exhibition.

Listeners, we need your help to make this podcast better! We need to know a bit more about you and what themes you’re interested in. You can share this information with us by visiting smartsurvey.co.uk/s/ontherecord/. We’ll include that link in the episode description and on our website. You can also share your feedback or suggestions for future series by emailing us at OnTheRecord@nationalarchives.gov.uk.

To find out more about these letters, the history behind them, and The National Archives, follow the link from the episode description in your podcast listening app or visit nationalarchives.gov.uk.

Thank you to all the experts who contributed to this episode. This episode was written, edited, and produced by Hannah Hethmon for Better Lemon Creative Audio. Cyril’s letter was read by Dan Vo.

This podcast is copyright to The National Archives, all rights reserved. It is available for reuse under the terms of the Open Government Licence.

1 comments

  1. Patricia Stevens says:

    Great listening! I was interested to hear about the Caravan Club down Endell Street. I have just been reading about the Military Hospital staffed by women that was in Endell Street during WW1. Obviously a street of great historic interest.

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